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How to completely nail a surprise wedding

how to plan a surprise wedding

Oh, the joy (and envy) we get when we see pics from surprise weddings. You can always feel the pure, unmasked, holy-shit-happiness of the guests when they realise that the “engagement party” they thought they were attending was just the warm-up act for the real deal.

If you’re thinking about heading down this path, we’re completely behind you. Not only do surprise weddings completely delight all in attendance, they can be a fantastic option for couples that want to avoid the stress and pressure of organising a traditional wedding.

We thought we’d put together our recommendations on how to plan and pull off surprise nuptials. Read on – and congrats in advance.


Often, we see engagement parties turn into surprise weddings – which makes total sense, since it’s an event to celebrate the two of you and the impending wedding ahead. But timing is of the essence here –  we’d be raising a couple of eyebrows if you decided to have an engagement party out of the blue more than a year after first getting engaged.

If you’ve already had an engagement party and are still keen on doing a surprise wedding, then try and time it with another convincing event, for example a birthday party. Just be aware though, that there are hardly any events outside of the ‘big birthdays’ (e.g. 18ths, 21sts, 40ths), engagement parties and weddings (oh, and funerals) that have the same ability to pull all the important people in your life together. So you might need to make a special effort to contact people to let them know you reeaaallllyyy hope they can make it… in a subtle way.


We reckon a videographer has to be high on the vendor priority list. The photo reactions from everyone when they clue in to what’s happening will be amazing but the sound and excitement probably has to be watched to be fully appreciated. If you’re going to let a few people in on the secret, you could even ask that they whip out their iPhones at the announcement moment just so you can get some ‘in-the-crowd’ reactions to watch later.


We’ve seen a couple of surprise weddings where the surprise is pretty much busted right at the beginning – there was one where people arrived and there was a sign out the front announcing that it was a wedding. We didn’t think it was as impactful as having the entire party there enjoying their evening and then it’s suddenly revealed that you’re getting hitched. So, making sure all your guests are there before the reveal happens is a big one.


… which leads us into this. It’s tricky – people are always on time to a wedding but there’s less pressure to be punctual for an engagement party. So you kind of need to give people an incentive to arrive before a certain time. Maybe you could offer cocktails until 7pm? Or say you you’ve got special entertainment until X o’clock so you need to be at the party by then? Or kick off super early to give guests a couple of hours to get there before say, a 7pm announcement? Or say you’ve got a special dinner starting at X o’clock for everyone? Just some ideas.


We love the idea of making a super, OTT grand moment of that wedding announcement. Imagine if you had an arbour covered with drapes that have been there the whole time  and then suddenly they open to amazing florals and a celebrant!? And you whip off an outer layer to reveal a wedding dress beneath? Ba-na-nas. Or confetti falls from the ceiling, Price Is Right-style?

If a big display isn’t quite your style, decide whether you’ll be making the announcement or if someone else will be making it on your behalf. You could have a charismatic friend call on everyone’s attention for a moment, drop the bombshell and then you and your partner begin walking down an impromptu aisle.


In order to make all of this actually stick according to law, you’ll need a celebrant on hand to officiate the marriage. And they’ve got to a bit of legwork in the lead-up too, so make sure you engage a celebrant with at least six weeks before the surprise (celebrants are required to submit a ‘Notice of Intended Marriage’ a minimum of one month prior to the wedding).


Give people a good dress code. Because they’ll want to have worn something amazing as soon as they realise it’s a wedding and will be wishing they’d gone the extra mile.


Have all your guest’s names in a hat and get them involved in the ceremony to make it more novel – e.g. you could pull a name out of a hat and that guest has to do a reading. And another guest is suddenly nominated as the flower girl and has to ceremoniously scatter some petals around you. It could be really interactive.

After more wedding planning advice? You’ll find practical, no BS tips and suggestions right here

26th September, 2017

Leave a comment


  1. would love advice on engagement themes

    Heidi Van Es
    • Hi Heidi, you can take any theme from our featured real weddings and apply it to an engagement party. Or if you search ‘styled shoot’ you’ll also find a tonne of engagement theme ideas. You could always take inspiration from the season you’re having your party too!

      karina Lowndes
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